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Police identify suspect they say fired a gun on Columbia Heights Metro escalator

D.C. police released surveillance video that shows a man firing at least one round from a gun at the Columbia Heights Metro station on Aug. 25. (Video: D.C. Police Dept.)

A man being sought for allegedly firing a gun down an escalator at the Columbia Heights Metro station last week had walked away from a local federal prison reentry facility after being convicted for a 2013 shooting.

Cesar Morales, 22, was named in an arrest warrant filed by D.C. police on Thursday, and Police Chief Peter Newsham described him as “armed and dangerous.”

Newsham urged help from the public in finding him.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons said Morales walked away from a halfway house overseen by the Baltimore Residential Reentry Management Office, which oversees facilities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware and the District. A prison system spokesman did not identify the location of the halfway house. Officials from the reentry office did not return calls seeking comment.

Morales was nearing the end of serving a five-year sentence on several gun charges related to the 2013 shooting of a man in the District; authorities typically move inmates to halfway houses or other detention centers designed to transition inmates back into society.

Police continue to search for perpetrator in chilling video of shooting at top of Metro escalator

Police described Morales as Hispanic, 5-foot-2 to 5-foot-5 and 150 pounds. Police said he has brown eyes, black hair and distinctive tattoos on his face.

The bullet fired in the lunchtime shooting Friday at a Northwest Washington Metro station didn’t strike anyone. But the incident was captured on surveillance video, and witnesses were unnerved at the brazenness of a man opening fire at 12:15 p.m. in what normally is a bustling transit stop adjacent to a shopping center that includes a Best Buy, Target and other stores.

Few people were in the vicinity, police said, and it took time before authorities realized a gun had been discharged, though authorities have not fully explained why the public was not informed of the incident until Monday, when the video was released.

That video shows one man chasing another and then standing at the top of the escalator shooting at least once at a third man running down the moving stairs. A short while later, Newsham said, police chased a man a few blocks away and saw him toss a gun in the 3300 block of 16th Street NW. The man, believed to be Morales, escaped.

“Complicating matters further,” Newsham said, “the victim or intended target of the shooting also fled the scene. … We don’t know who the victim is … so we really don’t have a motive in the case.”

Newsham defended the department amid criticism that it took authorities three days to inform the public that shots had been fired at a Metro station. Reporters had made inquiries last Friday as police searched for the weapon. While the department confirmed finding the discarded gun, there was no mention of the earlier shooting at the station. Officials said police were not immediately aware of the shooting at the station until much later Friday when they saw the video.

A Metro spokeswoman this week also said that it was not immediately clear a weapon was discharged, and that there was no obvious crime scene. She said the surveillance video from an adjacent property shed light on the sequence of events.

Metro said it did not release information on the shooting because D.C. police, as the lead agency, determined which details to reveal — and when — to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

“I don’t think it was any intention to disguise the fact that this incident occurred,” Newsham said. “Officers arrived upon the scene, we had a shooting, I think a lot of folks were aware of that.” The chief said that as soon as police have video they can make public, they do so, saying police “did that this past Monday.”

Newsham said there was no information to suggest last week’s incident was linked to the Wednesday night fatal shooting of a 42-year-old man in the 1400 block of Harvard Street, just a few blocks south. But he said that because of their proximity, “we’re going to look at them and see if they are connected.”

Prosecutors in 2014 described Morales as a dangerous man who, despite his young age, had an extensive criminal record and previous stints in prison. “Notably, his prior arrests involve violence, including assault, assault on a police officer and robbery,” a prosecutor wrote to the court after a jury convicted Morales in a series of gun offenses stemming from the arrest in 2013.

In that case, police said Morales had recklessly driven into an alley in July 2013 in the 3400 block of Holmead Place NW, just north of the Columbia Heights Metro station. A man who was nearly struck by the pickup truck owned by a furniture company where Morales worked objected, and the two argued, according to court documents.

The two men parted with a handshake, but prosecutors said Morales returned a short time later in the truck, slowed and shot at the man through an open window. The bullet missed but struck the wall of a home. A jury convicted Morales of assault with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence and possession of an unregistered firearm.

Prosecutors asked Morales be imprisoned for more than seven years, but the judge sentenced him to five years, followed by three years supervised release. Morales’s attorney at the time declined to comment Thursday.

Police continue to search for perpetrator in chilling video of shooting at top of Metro escalator